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Trip Report Trip Report: New York City July 25-27, 2014

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Here is a very detailed trip report of my most recent experiences in New York. I write these reports mostly for myself so that I can recall in the future what I did and what I ate where; so if you don't like lots of minute details, you may want to skip this report. I write the reports for myself and post them online as a "courtesy" in the event others may garner some nugget of useful knowlegde, as I know I have from reading reports (the detailed ones!) from other people.

Once again I made my annual summer pilgrimage to New York City this past weekend. I always take the train from Boston South Station down to New York Penn Station and the journey takes a little over 3.5 hours, though this time we were 25 min late. The time passes fairly quickly on the train, as I enjoy looking out the window at the passing scenery. Upon my arrival at Penn Station I purchased a Metrocard and took the E subway line to Lexington/53rd St and walked the short distance to my hotel, the Courtyard Marriott Midtown East. This was my first time staying at this hotel. I usually stay at the Marriott Eastside which is just a few blocks south. I chose to stay at the Courtyard this time since I wanted to use Marriott points and it cost fewer points to stay there. The Courtyard lacks an impressive main lobby, but it does have a business center, lobby and café which serves breakfast on the 12th floor (which I didn’t visit). I was assigned room 1818 which over looked 53rd St. The color scheme in the room was gray and dark wood. One of the nice things about this hotel was that it is very convenient to the subway, in fact there is a stop just a few steps away on the same side of the street for E, M trains. The main difference I found between this hotel and that of my usual Marriott was lack of main lobby, less “fancy” toiletries, slightly less nice fixtures in the room and no full service restaurant attached, but on the whole there was not much difference in the experience. I really liked how close the subway was. I also liked that the elevators are much faster/more efficient.

After dropping my bag in the room, I followed my tradition of dining at Brasserie on the night of my arrival. This restaurant is located in the Seagram building on 53rd St and was even closer to my new hotel. I ordered a pear martini and enjoyed the baguette and butter that is immediately brought to the table. I ordered off the Restaurant Week menu this time, since everything I planned to order was on that menu and it’s a set $38 price. I got the onion soup for my appetizer and the steak frites for the main course and the chocolate beignets for dessert. The portion sizes are smaller on the restaurant week menu, which was actually better for me. The one main difference I noticed was with the beignets; I’ve been getting those at Brasserie for years now and I’m not sure whether they just changed them this year or whether they serve a cheaper version for the Restaurant Week menu (I suspect they just serve a cheaper version). Typically they are stuffed with chocolate and on the side is a small dish of hot chocolate sauce to dip and a small portion of cashew brittle ice cream. The ones I was served this time had no filling and had a cinnamon sugar coating with a small amount of chocolate sauce drizzled over the top. The portion of ice cream was even smaller than normal. I still enjoyed this rendition, but prefer the other style.

After dinner I walked over to Rockefeller Center and walked around that area for a while before heading back to the hotel.

Saturday I left early to walk up to the Parker Meridien hotel by 7:30am to eat breakfast at Norma’s. I’m not normally a breakfast eater, but the type of food they serve at Norma’s is exactly to my taste, so after going there for the first time last year, I decided to make it a tradition. There were a couple groups waiting ahead of me, but I was seated easily without a reservation at that hour. They manage to fit a lot of tables into a smallish space, so you will be in close proximity to others. They always bring over a sample of the smoothie of the day to start with and today it was pineapple, orange, banana. I contemplated ordering a full serving but chose the fresh squeezed orange juice instead. I ordered the PB&C Wafflewich for my main course. This is a chocolate waffle split in half the long way with peanut butter in between the layers, garnished with a very large portion of fresh whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. I adore this dish as I find it to be the perfect fusion of chocolate and peanut butter.

After this indulgence, I walked back to the hotel to prepare for my day at the New York Botanical Garden. I walked down to Grand Central Station to get the Metro North Railroad Harlem Line to the garden. I purchased a round trip ticket at the ticket window but I think there are machines you can purchase from as well. The track the train departed from was downstairs off of the food court. The garden has its own stop called Botanical Garden and it’s the fifth stop after you leave Grand Central and the ride is about 20 minutes. The stop for the garden is directly across the street from the pedestrian entrance (Mosholu Gate). I spent a little over 3 hours at the garden and saw most of the highlights. The property is quite expansive and they offer a tram that takes you around the property and stops at various points. I especially enjoyed the Enid Haupt Conservatory with its many climate displays (rainforest, desert etc.). I also recall enjoying the Native Garden, Wetlands, Perennial Garden, Rose Garden and daylily display. After spending much of the day at the garden I arrived back to my hotel to sit down for an hour and rest my foot which was bothering me for some reason.

Prior to dinner I walked back over to Rockefeller Center to take some photos before getting the F train to Broadway/Lafayette so I could transfer to the 6 at Bleecker to Brooklyn Bridge. It started to rain but luckily I had my umbrella with me for the walk down to Front Street for dinner. Dinner tonight I dined early at Cowgirl Seahorse which is located in lower Manhattan on the East side not far from South Street Seaport. I wanted to eat fairly close to the seaport area since I planned on taking an evening cruise that departed from there. The restaurant was pretty busy when I arrived but there were still some open tables. I’m sorry to say that service/organization at this place was a bit of a disaster. Myself and another group arrived at the same time and no host appeared for several minutes. Finally we were both seated, and then it took about 15 minutes for a server to come over to take my order. Now, as I was sitting there waiting to order, I looked around and noticed that nobody seemed to be getting any better service than I was. There was a couple who were trying to pay and not having any luck getting attention and next to me was a group of 10, and during my 15 minutes sitting there, nobody even walked by their table to see if they wanted more drinks. Finally the server came and I ordered a frozen margarita, chili con queso and beef enchiladas with red sauce. The drink came out fairly soon but I waited and waited for the queso dip. The waitress came over and asked if I’d gotten it yet—to which I replied “no”. She came back out with it in about 5 minutes and then came with the main course, so essentially both came out together. The queso dip was really quite tasty and had a nice zesty taste to it and the enchiladas were good too, especially the red sauce, though the beef could have used a little more seasoning. Meanwhile, back at the party of 10 table, their food finally came out and the waitress just wasn’t that on the ball about bringing the extras they had ordered and they brought out one extra dish that nobody claimed. Then as I was waiting for the check, another server came by with another order of queso for my table-- I guess they didn’t realize I’d finally gotten the original order? There seemed to be a bunch of people walking around but not really “doing” anything or serving customers; it was just strange. It’s too bad the service was such a disaster, as the food was actually decent- not the best but actually quite good. I opted not to attempt to get dessert, as I figured it would end up taking 30 minutes just to get a piece of pie.

After dinner I walked down to the seaport to get my cruise: Statue at Night with NY watertaxi/Circle Line Downtown. I ended up pre-purchasing my ticket online, as last year I planned to buy it there but the cruise was sold out. While I was waiting for boarding time I amused myself watching the students at the trapeze school that is on the quay. We boarded close to 7:30pm and then cruised out to Battery Park and then out to the Statue of Liberty where they stop the boat for a few minutes and float so that each side gets a view of the statue. Finally we made our way back and traveled a little way up the East River under the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges before heading back to the dock. The cruise was only an hour so you then have the rest of the evening to walk around or do something else.

I then walked up to Chambers St to get the 1 train to Christopher St for a small dessert at Big Gay Ice Cream. The line was nearly out the door when I arrived at the shop and when I left it was around the corner. I chose the Mermaid. This is a dish of vanilla soft serve with graham cracker pie crust crumbs, key lime curd and whipped cream. I liked it a lot and was glad I tried it. Last year I got the Bea Arthur and loved that too. I can’t wait to try another concoction on my next visit-maybe the Rocky Roadhouse.

I walked up to 14th St to grab the E train back to my hotel.

Sunday, I left early again to make a repeat performance at Norma’s. This time I tried something different: the Chocolate Decadence French Toast. This is 3 pieces of chocolate cake cooked in a French Toast batter and layered with marinated strawberries, garnished with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. I loved this as much as the waffle; maybe next time I’ll branch out and try something without chocolate—the Donut Even Go There French Toast!

This morning dawned somewhat gloomy with the threat of rain, but I decided to take my chances and continue with my original plan to rent a bike in Central Park. I used Bike and Roll who have a kiosk in the corner of the park by Columbus Circle. I obtained my bike and map and set off. I was out early and there was the Central Park Triathlon going on (not to be confused with the main NY Triathlon taking place in Aug). So it was very busy between competitors and regular bikers; I just tried to keep out of the way! Biking in Central Park is restricted to the roads and it’s one way only; if you want to go down the foot paths you are supposed to hop off and walk your bike. I followed the main road up to 110th street and then down the West side of the park. While it was fun to be able to see some of the park I hadn’t seen before, in a way it was sort of pain to be stuck with the bike and have to get off and walk it everywhere you might want to see. Also, I felt under pressure to ride with the flow of traffic (speed wise) so I didn’t feel as leisurely as I might have felt if I was on foot; plus paying attention to looking behind me if I wanted to change “lanes”. Anyway I did the full loop once and then went around halfway again and took the cut off at 72nd street to come back around before returning the bike. I spent about 1.5 hours during my tour. I was lucky that the rain they spoke of never came.

Next I went back to the hotel to check out and check my bag for the day. After that I took the E train downtown to 42nd St to change to the C to Chambers St where I walked to Petit Abeille and had a quick lunch. This was my first time at this restaurant and it won’t be my last. I got the Croque Monsieur which is served with frites and little side salad. Considering I had such a large breakfast I didn’t end up finishing the croque, but it was very tasty; a nice balance of ham, not too much bechamel sauce and a hearty portion of cheese.

After lunch I walked down to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. I didn’t buy tickets ahead of time, as I had checked for a few days prior and did not see any evidence of times being sold out, so I took my chances. It turned out to be fine—I arrived a little after noon and was able to get 12:30pm tickets. The line to get in moved rather slowly but eventually I was inside. The museum was well done and held many artifacts from the buildings and from the victims as well as those who escaped. There are sections focusing on the Pentagon, Shanksville PA and 1993 attack on WTC. The Memorial Plaza is quite nice with many trees and of course the 2 waterfalls that make up the footprint of the 2 former buildings. I spent about 2.5 hours in the museum and could have spent longer. The only problem with the museum are the crowds. It’s a similar experience as going to Pearl Harbor; they have lots of worthwhile exhibits, but there are so many people that you can’t really see everything as everyone blocks one another.

After that I walked down to Wall Street to see the New York Stock Exchange and the general Wall Street area before walking down to see the Bowling Green Bull statue. There were hordes of people swarming the statue so I couldn’t get a good photo.

By now it was nearly 4pm, so I had to start wending my way back uptown. I got the C train to 14th St where I got off and went to Billy’s Bakery to bring home some items to share with family at home. I got a slice of chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, a slice of yellow cake with chocolate frosting and a peanut butter chocolate bar. Then I carted my purchases up the street to the Meatball Shop where I had an early dinner. I chose one pork meatball slider with parmesan cream sauce, one beef meatball slider with spicy meat sauce and a glass of white peach sangria. The sliders are cute and 2 were perfect for a light meal. You can mix and match meatballs and sauces. I liked the pork one the best. The menus are printed with plastic over them and you check off the items you want to order with a marker. They also have create your own ice cream sandwich for dessert which of course I took advantage of. I selected snickerdoodle cookies and brown sugar ice cream which was a fabulous combination.

Back to the hotel I went where I collected my bag and then made my way back to Penn Station via the E train for the 6pm Acela back to Boston. The train was delayed due to the regional train before it running late.

As usual I had a fabulous time in New York revisiting old favorite sites and discovering new ones. I always have more things on my list to do than I have time for—next time maybe I’ll do the Central Park at night bike tour, visit Coney Island or go to the New York Historical Society.

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